Holy Cow! Part I

We welcome Surabhi, the new cow who has come to the ashram to make her home.  May she bring blessings to all!

Surabhi: Another name for Kamadhenu, the divine, wish-fulfilling cow in Hindu mythology. Surabhi also means “fragrance”; “fragrant thing” and “perfume”.

The Story of Vasishtha and Vishvamitra

(From Valmiki Ramayana Book One)

Our yearly enactments of the Ramlila at the ashram have made many devotees here in Taos familiar with the famous sages of the Ramayana-Vasishtha and Vishvamitra.  But did you know that these two powerful sages were once great enemies?  Read on to find out what role the wish-fulfilling cow, here called Shabala, played in setting these two great beings at odds…

Mighty Vishvamitra once ruled the earth, reigning as a king for many thousands of years.  But one time that mighty man assembled his forces and, surrounded by a full army, wandered over the earth…The king at length came to Vasishtha’s ashram…which was like a second world of Brahma…It was filled with seers and ascetics-self-controlled men who had conquered their anger and subdued their senses-men who lived only on fruits and roots and who were given over entirely to prayer and sacrifice.

Mighty Vishvamitra was delighted to see Vasishtha, foremost in Vedic recitation, and bowed to him in humility…Vasishtha, smiling slightly, said these words to Vishvamitra, “Mighty and unfathomable man, I wish to offer my hospitality as befits your rank to you and your troops.  Please accept this from me…”  Vasishtha called to his brindled cow, “Come, come quickly, Shabala, and hear my words.  I have decided to prepare a hospitable welcome, replete with sumptuous foods, for the royal seer and his troops.  See to it for me.  For my sake, heavenly wish-fulfilling cow, you must pour forth anything these men desire-as much as they want, using all the six flavors.  Hurry Shabala, for you must make a huge amount of food…”

Addressed in this way by Vasishtha, the wish fulfilling cow produced as much as anyone desired.  She made sugarcane and sweets, parched grain and wines, excellent liquors, costly beverages and all sorts of food.  She produced mountainous heaps of steaming rice, savory food, soups and rivers of curds.  There were thousands of silver platters, filled with various delicious confections.  Fed to satiation, the army was full of happy and well-fed people.  The honor shown Vishvamitra and his ministers and counsellors filled him with great joy, and he addressed Vasishtha, “Brahman, you who are yourself worthy of honor have cordially received me and shown me great honor.  But listen, eloquent sage, for I have something to say.  Please give me Shabala in exchange for a hundred thousand cows, for, holy man, she is truly a gem, and all gems belong to the king.  Therefore, Brahman, you must give me Shabala.  By rights she is mine.”

Addressed in this fashion by Vishvamitra, the eminent, righteous and holy sage Vasishtha replied to that lord of the earth, “I would not give you Shabala, your majesty, for a hundred thousand or even a thousand million cows-not even for masses of silver.  For she is as inseparable from me as is good repute from a man of self-control.  Foe-conquering hero, Shabala is not deserving of abandonment.  For upon her depend my offerings to the gods and the offerings to my departed ancestors, as well as our bodily sustenance-so do the burnt offerings, the bali and the homa offerings.  So too the ritual utterances svahaa and vashant, and the various branches of learning-all this depends upon her, royal seer.  Of this there can be no doubt.  Truly, she is everything to me, always gratifying me.  Your majesty, there are many reasons why I cannot give you Shabala.”

Now being spoken to in this fashion by Vasishtha only made the eloquent Vishvamitra still more determined, and he said these words, “I will give you fourteen thousand elephants with golden chains for girth and neck, equipped with goads of gold.  And I will give you eight hundred golden four-yoked chariots, adorned with bells and drawn by white horses.  Sage firm in your vows, I will give you, in addition, one thousand and ten powerful horses, foaled in good regions and born of noble stock.  And to this I will add ten million young cows, each distinguished by a different coloring.   Now give me Shabala.”

Addressed in this fashion by wise Vishvamitra, the holy man replied, “I would not give up Shabala for anything, your majesty.  For she alone is my jewel.  She alone is my wealth.  She alone is everything to me, my very life…But what is the use of all this idle chatter?  I will not give up the wish-fulfilling cow.”

Now, when the sage Vasishtha would not give up Shabala, the wish-fulfilling cow, Vishvamitra had her dragged away from him by force.  As the great king had Shabala led away, she was overwhelmed with grief and began to think: “Has the great Vasishtha abandoned me, that the king’s servants are taking me away, even though I am despondent and so terribly unhappy?  What wrong have I done the great contemplative seer that this righteous man should abandon me, his favorite, when I am innocent and devoted to him?”  Reflecting thus, she sighed repeatedly and then ran quickly to the incomparably powerful Vasishtha.  Shaking off servants by the hundred, she ran with the speed of the wind to the great man’s feet.  Standing before Vasishtha, Shabala lowed like thunder.  Weeping and crying out, she spoke: “Holy son of Brahma, have you abandoned me, that the king’s men are taking me away from you?”

Addressed in this fashion, the brahman seer spoke these words, as though to an unhappy sister whose heart was consumed with grief.  “I have not abandoned you, Shabala, nor have you wronged me.  This mighty king is taking you from me by force.  My power is not equal to the king’s.  For he is a mighty Kshatriya monarch, the lord of the earth.  There is his full army with hosts of horses and chariots, bristling with elephants and banners.  By virtue of this, he is stronger than I.”

Address in this fashion by Vasishtha and skilled in speech, she humbly spoke these words in reply to the immeasurably splendid brahman seer: “They say that a Kshatriya has no real power, and that a brahman is, in fact, more powerful.  Brahman, the power of a brahman is divine and much greater than that of the Kshatriyas.  Your power is immeasurable.  Vishvamitra is very powerful, but he is not mightier than you.  Your power is unassailable.  Just give the order, mighty man, and, filled with the power of the brahmans, I will crush the might and pride of this wicked man.”

When she addressed him in this fashion, the greatly renowned Vasishtha said, “Create an army to destroy the armies of my enemy.”  Then she gave a roar, “humbha,” from which were born hundreds and hundreds of Pahlavas who destroyed Vishvamitra’s army before his very eyes…

Seeing his sons and his army destroyed, the renowned Vishvamitra was ashamed and sank into gloomy thought.  Like the ocean becalmed or a snake whose fangs are broken, like the sun in eclipse, he was suddenly deprived of his splendor…So, making his one surviving son king, he entered the forest without delay.  He went to the slopes of the Himalayas and there performed austerities to gain the favor of the great god Shiva…

After some time, that lord of gods revealed himself to the great sage Vishvamitra.  Vishvamitra prostrated himself and said these words: “If you are satisfied with me, then please teach me the science of arms…grant me knowledge of whatever weapons are known among the gods…”

But the mighty royal seer, already proud, was filled with still greater pride upon receiving those weapons.  Swelling with might like the ocean on the full-moon day, he reckoned the eminent seer Vasishtha as good as dead.  Returning to the sage’s ashram, the king fired his weapons, whereupon the entire ascetics’ grove was burnt up by their power.  When the sages saw the weapons discharged by wise Vishwamitra, they were frightened and fled by the hundred in all directions.  Even Vasishthas’s disciples and the beasts and birds were frightened of the danger and fled by the thousands in all directions.  In what seemed but a moment, great Vasishtha’s ashram was as empty and silent as a desert, despite Vasishtha’s repeated cries of “Don’t be frightened.  I shall destroy the son of Gadhi as the sun destroys the mist.”

When he had spoken in this fashion, the mighty Vasishta, foremost reciter of the Vedas, spoke these words in wrath to Vishvamitra: “Fool, since your conduct is so depraved that you would wreck an ashram that has so long flourished, you shall die…” Enraged, the son of Gadhi then fired a whole host of weapons at Vasishta.  But a wondrous thing occurred: the son of Brahma engulfed them all with his staff.

Vishvamitra, humiliated, sighed and said: “The power of the Kshatriyas is no power at all.  Only the power of a brahman’s energy is power indeed.  All my weapons have been destroyed by a single brahman’s staff.  Therefore, when I have reflected on this and calmed my mind and senses, I shall undertake great austerities, for this alone will make me a brahman.”

This is the way in which the mighty ascetic Vishvamitra began his feud with the great Vasishtha.

“I am Kamadhuk-the wish fulfilling cow.” 

-Lord Krishna, Bhagavad Gita

Who is the wish-fulfilling cow?

Kamadhenu (Sanskrit: कामधेनु, [kaːməˈd̪ʱeːnʊ], Kāmadhenu), also known as Surabhi (सुरभि, Surabhī), is a divine bovine-goddess described in Hinduism as the mother of all cows. She is a miraculous “cow of plenty” who provides her owner whatever he desires and is often portrayed as the mother of other cattle as well as the eleven Rudras. In iconography, she is generally depicted as a white cow with a female head and breasts or as a white cow containing various deities within her body. All cows are venerated in Hinduism as the earthly embodiment of the Kamadhenu. As such, Kamadhenu is not worshipped independently as a goddess, and temples are not dedicated to her honor alone; rather, she is honored by the veneration of cows in general.

Hindu scriptures provide diverse accounts of the birth of Kamadhenu. While some narrate that she emerged from the churning of the cosmic ocean, others describe her as the daughter of the creator god Daksha, and as the wife of the sage Kashyapa. Still other scriptures narrate that Kamadhenu was in the possession of either Jamadagni or Vashista (both ancient sages).  In addition to dwelling in the sage’s hermitage, she is also described as dwelling in Goloka – the realm of the cows – and Patala, the netherworld.

Kamadhenu is often addressed by the proper name Surabhi, which is also used as a synonym for an ordinary cow. Professor Jacobi considers the name Surabhi—”the fragrant one”—to have originated from the peculiar smell of cows. According to the Monier Williams Sanskrit–English Dictionary (1899), Surabhi means fragrant, charming, pleasing, as well as cow and earth. It can specifically refer to the divine cow Kamadhenu, the mother of cattle who is also sometimes described as a Matrika (“mother”) goddess. Other proper names attributed to Kamadhenu are Sabala (“the spotted one”) and Kapila (“the red one”).

The epithets “Kamadhenu”, “Kamaduh” (कामदुह्) and “Kamaduha” (कामदुहा) literally mean the cow “from whom all that is desired is drawn”—”the cow of plenty”.

According to Indologist Madeleine Biardeau, Kamadhenu or Kamaduh is the generic name of the sacred cow, who is regarded as the source of all prosperity in Hinduism. Kamadhenu is regarded as a form of Devi (the Hindu Divine Mother) and is closely related to the fertile Mother Earth (Prithvi), who is often described as a cow in Sanskrit. The sacred cow denotes “purity and non-erotic fertility, … sacrificing and motherly nature, [and] sustenance of human life”.

Frederick M. Smith describes Kamadhenu as a “popular and enduring image in Indian art” All the gods are believed to reside in the body of Kamadhenu—the generic cow. Her four legs are the scriptural Vedas; her horns are the triune gods Brahma (tip), Vishnu (middle) and Shiva (base); her eyes are the sun and moon gods, her shoulders the fire-god Agni and the wind-god Vayu and her legs the Himalayas. Kamadhenu is often depicted in this form in poster art. Another representation of Kamadhenu shows her with the body of a white Zebu cow, crowned woman’s head, colorful eagle wings and a peacock’s tail. According to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this form is influenced by the iconography of the Islamic Buraq, who is portrayed with a horse’s body, wings, and a woman’s face. Contemporary poster art also portrays Kamadhenu in this form.

The Mahabharata (Adi Parva book) records that Kamadhenu-Surabhi rose from the churning of the cosmic ocean (Samudra manthan) by the gods and demons to acquire Amrita (ambrosia, elixir of life). As such, she is regarded the offspring of the gods and demons, created when they churned the cosmic milk ocean and then given to the Saptarishi, the seven great seers. She was ordered by the creator-god Brahma to give milk, and supply it and ghee (“clarified butter”) for ritual fire-sacrifices.

The Anushasana Parva book of the epic narrates that Surabhi was born from the belch of “the creator” (Prajapati) Daksha after he drank the Amrita that rose from the Samudra manthan. Further, Surabhi gave birth to many golden cows called Kapila cows, who were called the mothers of the world.

According to the Ramayana, Surabhi is the daughter of sage Kashyapa and his wife Krodhavasha, the daughter of Daksha. Her daughters Rohini and Gandharvi are the mothers of cattle and horses respectively. Still, it is Surabhi who is described as the mother of all cows in the text. However, in the Puranas, such as Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana, Surabhi is described as the daughter of Daksha and the wife of Kashyapa, as well as the mother of cows and buffaloes.

The Matsya Purana notes two conflicting descriptions of Surabhi. In one chapter, it describes Surabhi as the consort of Brahma and their union produced the cow Yogishvari, the eleven Rudras, “lower animals”, goats, swans and “high class drugs”. She is then described as the mother of cows and quadrupeds. In another instance, she is described as a daughter of Daksha, wife of Kashyapa and the mother of cows. The Harivamsa, an appendix of the Mahabharata, calls Surabhi the mother of Amrita (ambrosia), Brahmins, cows and Rudras.

The Devi Bhagavata Purana narrates that Krishna and his lover Radha were enjoying dalliance when they thirsted for milk. So Krishna created a cow called Surabhi and a calf called Manoratha from the left side of his body, and milked the cow. When drinking the milk, the milk pot fell on the ground and broke, spilling the milk, which became the Kshirasagara, the cosmic milk ocean. Numerous cows then emerged from the pores of Surabhi’s skin and were presented to the cowherd-companions (Gopas) of Krishna by him. Then Krishna worshipped Surabhi and decreed that she—a cow, the giver of milk and prosperity—be worshipped at Diwali on Bali Pratipada day.

In the Ramayana, Surabhi is described to be distressed by the treatment of her sons—the oxen—in fields. Her tears are considered a bad omen for the gods by Indra, the god-king of heaven.  The Vana Parva book of the Mahabharata also narrates a similar instance: Surabhi cries about the plight of her son—a bullock, who is overworked and beaten by his peasant-master. Indra, moved by Surabhi’s tears, rains to stop the ploughing of the tormented bullock.

In the Hindu religion, Kamadhenu is often associated with the Brahmin (“priest class” including sages), whose wealth she symbolizes. Cow’s milk and its derivatives such as ghee (clarified butter) are integral parts of Vedic fire sacrifices, which are conducted by Brahmin priests; thus the ancient Kamadhenu is sometimes also referred to as the Homadhenu—the cow from whom oblations are drawn. Moreover, the cow also offers the Brahmin—who is prohibited to fight—protection against abusive kings who try to harm him. As a goddess, she becomes a warrior, creating armies to protect her master and herself.

Kamadhenu-Surabhi’s residence varies depending on different scriptures. The Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata tells how she was given the ownership of Goloka, the cow-heaven located above the three worlds (heaven, earth and netherworld): the daughter of Daksha, Surabhi went to Mount Kailash and worshipped Brahma for 10,000 years. The pleased god conferred goddess-hood on the cow and decreed that all people would worship her and her children – cows. He also gave her a world called Goloka, while her daughters would reside on earth among humans.

In one instance in the Ramayana, Surabhi is described to live in the city of Varuna – the Lord of oceans – which is situated below the earth in Patala (the netherworld). Her flowing sweet milk is said to form Kshiroda or the Kshirasagara, the cosmic milk ocean. In the Udyoga Parva book of the Mahabharata, this milk is said to be of six flavours and to have the essence of all the best things of the earth. The Udyoga Parva specifies that Surabhi inhabits the lowest realm of Patala, known as Rasatala, and has for daughters the Dikpalis – the guardian cow goddesses of the heavenly quarters: Saurabhi in the east, Harhsika in the south, Subhadra in the west and Dhenu in the north.

The Bhagavad Gita, a discourse by the god Krishna in the Mahabharata, twice refers to Kamadhenu as Kamadhuk. In verse 3.10, Krishna makes a reference to Kamadhuk while conveying that for doing one’s duty, one would get the milk of one’s desires. In verse 10.28, when Krishna declares himself to be the source of the universe, he proclaims that among cows, he is Kamadhuk.

Some temples and houses have images of Kamadhenu, which are worshipped. However, she has never had a worship cult dedicated to her and does not have any temples where she is worshipped as the chief deity.  In Monier-Williams’s words: “It is rather the living animal [the cow] which is the perpetual object of adoration”. Cows are often fed outside temples and worshipped regularly on all Fridays and on special occasions. Every cow is regarded as an Avatar (earthly embodiment) of the divine Kamadhenu.

“It is by sacrifice that Soma (nectar) is got. Sacrifice has been established upon cows. (for without ghee or clarified butter, which is produced from milk, there can be no sacrifice). The gods become gratified through sacrifices. It is from the cows that the means have flowed for the sustenance of all the worlds. They yield Soma (nectar) in the form of milk. Cows are auspicious and sacred, the grantors of every wish and the givers of life.”

-Bhishma, Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva

Summer Seva Season

We officially open our doors to summer sevaks starting April 1st until September 30th and is a great opportunity to have the experience of living and volunteering at the ashram. We need help on the farm, in the flower gardens, in the kitchen, on building projects and with general cleaning and maintenance. Accommodations are tent sites with bathroom and shower facilities and shared meals. No pets, drugs or alcohol.

Interested devotees should embrace the philosophy of selfless service and be ready to work hard in the service of Maharajji. Check out our website for more information. All sevaks start with a three-day trial period. If it is a good match, stay for a festival or for the whole summer!

CLICK HERE for more information on the seva program

To apply: Email Anandi, the ashram manager at manager@nkbashram.org

Land & Homes for Sale Near the Ashram

Several properties near the ashram have come up for sale.
Please see the listings below:

Unique opportunity to invest in community:

La Lomita Trailer Park, located just adjacent to the south-west corner of the ashram property with beautiful views of Taos Mountain and utility hook-ups for up to 38 units, has come up for sale.  Currently there are 28 units being rented in the trailer park and the other 10 sites could be developed into a tiny-home or yurt park for out-of-town or retired devotees or others who would like to live in a community of like-minded individuals close to the ashram.  The land could be improved with landscaping and gardens and has the potential to become a beautiful shared space to be lived in either full or part time.

See the listing for the trailer park

Land & Homes near the ashram:

This beautiful land could be used as a place to build a home.  Alternatively, it could be put under a Conservation Easement to preserve the peaceful and serene environment around the ashram for future generations.  With an Agricultural Conservation Easement, the ashram could use the land to expand farming and cow rearing efforts as the need to feed more people and become fully sustainable grows.  Conservation Easements and Agricultural Conservation Easements provide a variety of tax benefits.

See the listing for the adjacent land

Here is another listing for land on the other side of the ashram property which also has building, farming and conservation potential. 

Here is a listing for a home for sale near the ashram.

If you would be interested in collaborating with other devotees on the purchase of any of the above-mentioned properties or would like more information about donating land or land-use to the ashram please contact the ashram office at 575-751-4080.

Bed & Breakfast 

Many ashram visitors over the years have enjoyed staying at this B&B right across the street.  It is now for sale.  Check out the listing.

India’s Exotic Textiles

The Puja Dukan features…

India’s Exotic Textiles

As everyone who has made a pilgrimage to India knows, the experience can be like a swim in the sea of the senses-sights, smells, tastes and textures passing in waves over us as we float through holding our breath….  We are often humbled by the incredible craftsmanship and long hours of work involved in creating masterpieces to wear, offer and enjoy.

Join us on a little trip around the subcontinent as we explore some of the textiles of India available in the Puja Dukan.

Lucknow Chikan


Chikan Kirtas – 4 colors     Chikan Salwar Kameez      Ladies White Kurta

Chikan is a traditional embroidery style from Lucknow in North India.  There are references to Indian chikan work as early as the 3rd century BC by Megasthenes, who mentioned the use of flowered muslins by Indians.  There are several tales about the origin of chikan work in Lucknow-it is said to have been introduced by Nur Jehan, the wife of the Mughal emperor Jahangir; there is also a tale of a traveler teaching chikan to a peasant in return for a drink of water.

The technique of creation of a chikan work is known as chikankari.  White thread is delicately embroidered on white or cool pastel shades of light muslin or cotton garments.  In order for the embroidery needle to pierce it, the fabric cannot be too thick or hard.
The first step in Chikankari is to block-print a pattern onto the fabric.  The pattern is then stitched over and the finished piece is carefully washed to remove all traces of the printing.

Front view of Chikan embroidery being done over temporary block printed pattern
& Chikan embroidery from the back


Chikan is a traditional embroidery style from Lucknow in North India.  There are references to Indian chikan work as early as the 3rd century BC by Megasthenes, who mentioned the use of flowered muslins by Indians.  There are several tales about the origin of chikan work in Lucknow-it is

The patterns and effects created depend on the stitches and the thicknesses of the threads used.

There are 32 types of chikan stitches. Below are the names and descriptions of a few:

•    Tepchi is a long running or darning stitch worked with six strands on the right side of the fabric taken over four threads and picking up one. Thus, a line is formed. It is used principally as a basis for further stitchery and occasionally to form a simple shape.
•    Bakhiya or ‘Shadow work’ is so named because that the embroidery is done on the wrong side and we see its shadow on the right side.
•    Hool is a fine detached eyelet stitch. A hole is punched in the fabric and the threads are teased apart. It is then held by small straight stitches all around and worked with one thread on the right side of the fabric. It can be worked with six threads and often forms the center of a flower.
•    Murri is the form of stitch used to embroider the centre of the flowers in chikan work motifs. They are typically French knots that are rice-shaped. Murri is the oldest and most sought-after form of chikankari. The use of this stitch is depleting due to a decrease in the artisans doing this embroidery.
•    Jali stitch is one where the thread is never drawn through the fabric, ensuring that the back portion of the garment looks as impeccable as the front. The warp and weft threads are carefully drawn apart and minute buttonhole stitches are inserted into the cloth.

Block Printing

Block printing is a very popular technique in northern and western India.  Any number of items can be block printed and one finds block printed saris, kurtas, bedsheets, scarves and other household and clothing pieces.

Check out this great video about block printing in Rajasthan:

Here is another video about the block printing process and the block printing industry:

Block printed dupattas at the Puja Dukan


A torana (Sanskrit) or toran (Hindi) is a type of gateway seen in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain architecture of India and other parts of East and Southeast Asia.

Both Chinese paifang gateways and Japanese torii gateways are derived from the Indian torana.  The functions of all three are similar, but they differ in their respective architectural styles.

In the Kalinga architecture of Orissa in eastern India we can see the torana in many temples built from the 7th to 12th centuries. The Jagannath Temple at Puri and the Rajarani and  Mukteswar temples in Bhubaneswar are exquisite examples.

Related Styles of Toranas


A toran is also the name for a hand-embroidered and embellished door hanging, traditionally made in Gujarat, on the coast of Northwestern India.  It is easy to see the connection between the embroidery of the fabric hangings and the detailed stone carvings, as well as in their function to welcome both the gods and people. Decorative torans also play a role in holidays like Diwali and Holi or at weddings and celebrations as they are believed to be auspicious and lucky. The doorway blesses every person that walks under it, showering them with an abundance of love, prosperity, health and happiness. While the heavily embroidered ones tend to be regional to Gujarat, torans in other forms are popular throughout India. In the south, green mango tree leaves are threaded together and hung across the door. In Northern India, marigold flowers are strung together and used the same way. The small flaps that hang from the fabric versions are meant to represent dangling leaves and flowers.

Fabric torans can be made from different materials and in in different styles with different motifs, depending on their region of origin.  Several types are pictured below:


While glass beads are used today in necklaces and bangles in many parts of India, glass seed beads seem to have been introduced only after 1700 and only in one small area – the Kingdom of Saurashtra in what is today southern Gujarat.

The shapes and forms of the beadwork echo those used in the embroidered and appliquéd torans made in the area.  The beadwork displays motifs of animals, people, gods, flowers and trees, usually scattered on a white background.

Several unique beaded torans and a type of wall hanging called a chakla are all available at the Puja Dukan:

Beaded Torans from Kutch

Krishna Beaded Toran

Ganesh Beaded Toran

Beaded Chakla

Embroidery and Mirror Work

Hand-embroidered bags from Rajasthan


                        Rajasthani Bag                                Mirror Work Purse

Abhla Bharat or Shisheh Embroidery (Mirror Work)

Shisheh embroidery was introduced from Muslim lands during the Mughal Empire in the 17th centurey.  However shisheh embroidery was not used on Mughal clothing but rather found only on traditional folk clothes of South and Central Asia. The term shisheh means glass in Persian, from where the word transferred to Urdu/Hindi and other related languages.

Traditionally, shisheh or abhla bharat work was done using mica but beetle, tin, silver or coins were not uncommon depending on the region. This was replaced by glass blown into large thin bubbles and broken into small pieces for this use which is why traditional shisheh mirrors have a convex curve. The tradition of making circular shisheh was extensively done by women in South Asia, who use special scissors that are repeatedly dampened to prevent flying shards.  The small mirrors are held in place by a framework of overlaid embroidery stitches.  No glue is used and the mirror is not threaded through or attached in any other way.   While many of the other decorative stitches, such as the chain stitch, are universal, shisheh work is unique to the Indian subcontinent. Women are solely responsible for these creations and motifs and patterns are not copied or written down, but instead passed along orally.

Among Hindus, Muslims and Jains in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana it is believed that the mirrors have the power to ward off evil spirits by trapping or confusing the evil eye.  Shisheh toranas are often hung over doorways for protection for that reason.

Shisheh Belts

Long Tribal Belt

Short Tribal Belt

Kathi Embroidery

Kathi Toran

Kathi embroidery also hails from the state of Gujarat and is another vibrant style.

These gorgeous pieces beautify the simple village surroundings of the Kathi people.  The woman create any number of different types of embroidered items including door panels, door hangings, seat covers, baby crib covers, items of clothing like the “ghagra” a traditionsl women’s skirt, canopies and decorations for camels, cows, bullocks and carts.  Taking inspiration from their surroundings, the women choose themes for their embroidery from everyday life like peacocks, parrots, elephants, camels, flowering plants, women filling water, women churning butter, wedding processions, folk dances like the Raas Lila and hunting scenes as well as Hindu gods like Ganesh, Surya (the sun), Radha Krishna and even Hanuman!

The embroidery is done with Silk floss called Heer in bold colours.  Purple, magenta, electric blue, parrot green, lemon yellow, golden yellow and red fill the large areas while white or black are sometimes used to add an outline in  motifs.

Two predominant design styles are geometric patterns such as the eight pointed star and boxed panels filled with embroidery and the motifs are drawn free-hand usually depicting flora, fauna and human figures.

Rabari Embroidery

There are distinct different variations in Rabari embroidery across the different Rabari sub groups. The three groups in Kutch are the Kutchi, Dhebaria and Vagharia. All trace their ancestry to the mythical Sambal, created by Lord Shiva to look after camels. Rabaris in Northwest India migrated from the Thar desert in Rajasthan in search of good camel grazing lands.  Embroidery is an important part of a Rabari woman’s life, evident in the unwavering work put into her embroidery on a daily basis and visible in various garments such as the choli or blouse, shawl and skirt, most elaborately embroidered for ceremonial wear at important functions like weddings. Mirrors are used in various shapes and sizes and abstracted forms of scorpions, peacocks and parrots as well as flowers and geometric patterns are embroidered in chain stitch and accent stitches in bold colours. Back stitch bakhiya is also used to decorate the seams of women’s blouses and men’s kediyun jackets.

Traditionally, Rabari women practiced embroidery as an integrated part of their nomadic existence. Embroidery was an affordable aesthetic expression of community, sub-community and status within that community. Embroidery was portable, created wealth. A woman adorned herself and her household with her own efforts, utilizing time between more essential chores. The glittering pieces that a girl embroidered for her dowry were considered a contribution to the marriage exchange. Women worked as artists, without thought of time, concentrating on making the most beautiful contributions they could, knowing that their work would be appreciated by community members who shared their aesthetics and values. Not only would Rabaris not think of dowry pieces and personal adornment in terms of commercial value; they feared showing them lest outsiders would try to purchase them.

Now Rabari embroidery pieces are available for sale and Rabari women are earning wages from their art.  These unique pieces remind us to take time to integrate beauty and aesthetics into our daily lives.

Toran from the Rabari tribe in Kutch, Gujarat

Rabari Toran



Winter Farm Video Tour

Join us for a tour of the winter farm. This is the first in a series of seasonal farm walks where we talk about the ways that we experience the land in the different seasons. In this first walk of the year we discuss some of the projects and visions for 2017 and get acquainted with the lay of the land.

Email: jessehar@gmail.com

To learn more about our permaculture farm, visit: http://nkbashram.org/ashram/babas-permaculture-farm/